Hey, look! A Dungeons & Dragons cartoon! It must have been difficult coming up with some of these concepts for shows that needed to adhere to these properties. I give writers from the ’80s and ’90s credit for doing the best with the material. Especially when they were under constant scrutiny from the FTC, because as we all now know, D&D makes people worship the devil.
In 1983, six kids rode a Dungeons & Dragons themed roller-coaster that magically transported them to the land of Dungeons & Dragons. There, a weird looking, balding dwarf named Dungeon Master (DM) gave them magical weapons, and classes, and probably stat sheets. All of this is shown in the opening credits. The group is composed of mostly teenagers, as well as an 8-year-old. As Matt Baum pointed out, most of the weapons the kids were given weren’t offensive. Hank was the Ranger, and used a bow that shot magic arrows. Eric was the Cavalier, and carried a shield. Diana dressed like Zula from Conan the Destroyer (to be fair, this came out first), and was the acrobat, with an extending staff for … vaulting! Albert was the Magician and changed his name to Presto, using his magical hat to produce useless items. Sheila was the Thief, with an invisibility cloak. Her younger form was 8-year-old Bobby, the Barbarian, and his earthquake-producing club.
I don’t think a single blade ever made an appearance on the show. The National Coalition on Television Violence was determined to nueter everything. They demanded that the FTC run a warning before each episode that D&D was linked to real-life violent deaths. Did anyone else get speechs in high school from “experts” about how D&D was bad? I’ve heard legends that now, even girls play D&D! Shock! Gasp!
The premise for the show was simple: The kids were trying to find a way home while fighting against Venger, the Force of Evil. This was in between random quests that the Dungeon Master would send them on. Occasionally they’d run into the five-headed dragon Tiamat, who was Venger’s arch rival. While they made up the weekly villains, there was an occasional appearance from other well-known characters from the D&D or Advanced D&D lines. Characters like Warduke. You may have heard of him.
The last character worth mentioning is Uni, the Unicorn. A lot of time obviously went into inventing her name. She was Bobby’s pet and followed the group around. Best part: she was voiced by Frank Welker, Megatron himself. Better yet, Venger, the ultimate evil or whatever, was Optimus freaking Prime, Peter Cullen. It sounds like they used some sort of audio augmentation on his voice, but I like to think that’s how he always talks. As for the rest of the cast, the remaining standout is
Donny Don Most — of Happy Days fame — as Eric, the pansy.
D&D ran from 1983 – 1985, produced by Marvel and TSR. The show was animated overseas by Toei (Voltron, DBZ, Transformers, etc.). The show ran for three seasons, constituting 27 episodes. Season one had 13 episodes, with season two having 8, and three having 7. Season three was supposed to have 8 episodes, but the last one — “Requiem” — was unproduced. It was to have answered many questions, mostly about Venger. He was Dungeon Master’s son, and DM brought the group to D&D land to redeem him and could have sent the kids back at any time. This would have led into a new status quo for season four if it were picked up. I think it’s pretty weak that they couldn’t animate the last episode. At that point, why not? The recorded audio for it was released on the DVD collection, and the script can be found here.
Jeffrey Scott (Ducktales, Captain N) wrote most of the episodes from the first season. He left the show after that to work on Muppet Babies. From there Michael Reaves mostly wrote season two and three. Paul Dini even penned two episodes from the first season. Both Reaves and Dini worked together a few years later on some other small show.
The show had six choose-your-own-adventure books with each character receiving their own tale. In 2006, a 5-disc complete DVD box set was released, which included a lot of extras, namely the radio play of the final unproduced episode. Now it’s out of print. A new one was released as a 3-disc set in 2009. This set contains none of the special features, including the radio play. If you need the DVD, track down the former.
Dungeons and Dragons was a neat show that I enjoyed watching. Nearly all of the episodes can be found on YouTube. Watching them now, I can see the template that this show established for many of the cartoons in the decades to come. If you’ve never seen an episode, I recommend “Valley of the Unicorns” or “The Dragon’s Graveyard.” It might be a bit much to watch the entire series, but certainly worth it for an episode or two.
Which character did you want to be? What non-bladed weapon would you have wielded? Comment below (or to yourself).
They couldn’t run from a giant 20-sided die once?
Tony has a lot more to say about comics, movies, video games, books, and board games at thecredhulk.com. He promises to give everyone who likes his Facebook page or follows him on Twitter and really big hug. They’re really good hugs.